“Yes, I must pass them for a nobler
Where I may find the agonies, the strife
Of human hearts."
In Isabella, the Ode to a Nightingale, Lamia, and Hyperion, he was beginning to paint these “agonies” and “the strife”; but death swiftly ended further progress on this road. Before he passed away, however, he left some things that have an Elizabethan appeal. Among such, we may mention his welcome to “easeful death,” his artistic setting of a puzzling truth:—
“...Joy, whose hand is ever at his
his line to which the young world still responds:—
“Forever wilt thou love and she be fair,”
and especially the musical call of his own young life, “yearning like a God in pain.”
THOMAS DE QUINCEY, 1785-1859
[Illustration: THOMAS DE QUINCEY. From the painting by Sir J.W. Gordon, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life.-Thomas de Quincey was born in Manchester in 1785. Being a precocious child, he became a remarkable student at the age of eight. When he was only eleven, his Latin verses were the envy of the older boys at the Bath school, which he was then attending. At the age of fifteen, he was so thoroughly versed in Greek that his professor said of him to a friend: “That boy could harangue an Athenian mob better than you or I could address an English one.” De Quincey was sent in this year to the Manchester grammar school; but his mind was in advance of the instruction offered there, and he unceremoniously left the school on his seventeenth birthday.
For a time he tramped through Wales, living on an allowance of a guinea a week. Hungering for books, he suddenly posted to London. As he feared that his family would force him to return to school, he did not let them know his whereabouts. He therefore received no money from them, and was forced to wander hungry, sick, and destitute, through the streets of the metropolis, with its outcasts and waifs. He describes this part of his life in a very entertaining manner in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.
When his family found him, a year later, they prevailed on him to go to Oxford; and, for the next four years, he lived the life of a recluse at college.
In 1808 he took the cottage at Grasmere that Wordsworth had quitted, and enjoyed the society of the three Lake poets. Here De Quincey married and lived his happiest years.
The latter part of his life was clouded by his indulgence in opium, which he had first taken while at college to relieve acute neuralgia. At one time he was in the habit of taking an almost incredible amount of laudanum. Owing to a business failure, his money was lost. It then became necessary for him to throw off the influence of the narcotic sufficiently to earn a livelihood, In 1821 he began to write. From that time until his death, in 1859, his life was devoted mainly to literature.